First, the news. GP2’s Johnny Cecotto, Jr. will be joining Max Chilton in driving the VJM04 at the young drivers’ test next week. For Virgin there will be Robert Wickens (who is also driving for Renault), Charles Pic (who is likely to be driving for them in F1 next year) and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs.
Today was free practice, and three drivers were being replaced for the first session – Romain Grosjean replaced Bruno Senna, Jean-Eric Vergne replaced Sebastien Buemi, and Robert Wickens replaced Jerome d’Ambrosio. Plenty of cars were spinning – both Ferraris, Kovalainen and Glock amongst others. Fastest overall was Jenson Button, with Webber second and Hamilton third. Rubens Barrichello finally wore out his engine, and will bring his eighth into service for the remainder of the weekend. Pastor Maldonado is on his ninth engine, and will incur a 10-place grid penalty for Sunday.
The second session had no real incidents until about 30 minutes from the end. Sebastian Vettel locked up into turn one, and about ten minutes later Fernando Alonso went into the same turn too quickly. Both drivers slid into the barrier. Vettel has always taken pole when he crashes on Friday (Canada, Turkey and Japan), though only once has he converted that into a victory. The Red Bull wasn’t really damaged, and the car was returned quickly so Vettel was able to get back on track. Meanwhile, Ferrari weren’t able to get their car back on time to complete the session. Fastest in the end was Hamilton, second Button, and third Alonso.
The GP2 cars are also on track this weekend for their non-championship race. The last time GP2 cars came to Yas Marina was for the first round of the GP2 Asia championship. Jules Bianchi, who is not racing this weekend, won the feature race. Stefano Coletti, who is racing this weekend, won the sprint.
But in this morning’s practice session it was Esteban Gutierrez who went fastest, with Fabio Leimer second and Tom Dillmann third, and the only GP3 driver in the top ten. Nathanael Berthon in seventh was the fastest of the Formula Renault drivers. Meanwhile, Giacomo Ricci and Nicholas Marroc both received 10-place grid penalties for the feature race after ignoring yellow flags.
Qualifying saw Dani Clos, Josef Kral and Fabio Leimer fight over pole. It was Leimer who eventually took it after a red flag was caused by Esteban Gutierrez. It is the Swiss driver’s first pole in GP2. Clos took second with Kral third, Razia fourth. The first GP2 newbie was Tom Dillmann, still showing incredible pace and starting ninth tomorrow ahead of his iSport teammate Marcus Ericsson. James Calado qualified 12th but will start 11th after Ricci’s penalty, with Nigel Melker right behind him. The fastest Formula Renault driver is Alex Rossi, who will start 14th.